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Barbara Kopple

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director's Note

"I couldn't have asked for a better tour guide for my first journey into the world of economics than Adam Davidson. Co-founder of NPR's Planet Money, the first spin-off of the beloved This American Life, and an advisor to the larger WE THE ECONOMY series, Adam had made a career out of walking the path I was now on – finding the simple, relatable story within complex economic matters. One day, already several interviews in and still looking for something to connect with, Adam shot straight with me. 'Look,' he instructed, 'we spend almost all our taxes on only three things. Everything else is a drop in the bucket.' 

There it was, a premise that folks could really get. So often we watch our elected officials spar over spending and cuts, but when we put them into context within the overall budget, it becomes clear they are arguing about pennies as opposed to dollars. When Mike Pesca loved the idea of having Adam on his popular podcast The Gist to discuss - and letting us come along to film - we were finally off and running.

It was important to me that people understand that while the spending itself may be insignificant in the grand scheme, the impact is often very significant to countless Americans. Speaking with my friends in the Steamfitters union, UA Local 638, they pointed me toward a major renovation project they were wrapping up at Penn South, a unique moderate-income housing complex in New York City made possible decades ago by one of those drops in the bucket of federal spending.

At Penn South we found a cross-section of American workers, young and retired, families and single, people of every race and culture. Penn's management and residents opened their doors to us, and with that came the rest of the film. If Adam was the brain of the piece, Penn South became the heart.

It didn't come as much of a surprise that many do not understand how our tax dollars are spent. What did surprise me was discovering how little I truly understood it. Several interviews into the project, having spoken with leading economic thinkers, I still couldn't put my finger on the story.

I really loved doing this film, both because of the wonderful people I got to know through making it and how interesting it all turned out to be. Economics, who knew? Many wonderful filmmakers have contributed their own shorts to the WE THE ECONOMY project, and I look forward to seeing all the others. Great project!"

Short Biography

Two-time Academy Award winner BARBARA KOPPLE directs and produces narrative films and documentaries. Her documentary “Running from Crazy” premiered at Sundance (2013), screened at Tribeca and other festivals, and was released theatrically. It will broadcast on the OWN cable network in 2014. Kopple is working on a documentary about soul singer Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, and is in post-production on a documentary about The Nation Magazine for their 150th anniversary. Kopple produced and directed “Harlan County USA” and “American Dream,” both Best Documentary Feature Academy Award winners. Other credits include “The House of Steinbrenner,” “Woodstock: Now and Then,” “Shut Up and Sing,” “A Conversation with Gregory Peck,” “My Generation,” “Wild Man Blues,” “Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson,” for which she won a DGA Award for Outstanding Direction, and more. Kopple directed the narrative feature “Havoc,” starring Anne Hathaway and written by Stephen Gaghan. She directs episodic television and commercial spots with credits including episodes of “Oz” on HBO and “Homicide,” for which she won a DGA Award for Outstanding Direction. She has directed spots for Sprint, Applebee’s, Dove, Target, The Tiger Woods Foundation, Pearl Vision and the Children’s Defense Fund. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Director’s Guild of America, New York Women in Film and Television’s Honorary Board, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

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